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Paul Okkenhaug (1908-1975)

by Rolf Diesen

The composer Paul Okkenhaug grew up, lived and worked his whole life in Levanger in the county of North Trøndelag. He was a farmer in the hamlet of Okkenhaug. He also pursued a varied musical career as a composer, organist and choirmaster, pianist and teacher. He was influenced as a child by his father, who played the violin, and his mother, who wrote books.

On their farm Øvre Okkenhaug Paul and his wife Magnhild (1908-) created a unique cultural environment. Out in the fields still stands the old drying house, Tørkhuset, where corn used to be dried. As a young man Okkenhaug became acquainted with the brothers Elliot and Louis Kvalstad from Namdalen. They used Tørkhuset as a studio, and lived there too. Later on Jakob Weidemann prepared his first exhibition at Tørkhuset, and Okkenhaug composed there. The farm offers a view of the Frol mountains, where Okkenhaug would seek peace and inspiration.

Paul Okkenhaug’s formal music training was as an organist, gradutaing from the music conservatory in Oslo at the age of 19. A decade later he embarked on composition studies with Bjarne Brustad, David Monrad Johansen and Geirr Tveitt, among others. He was awarded a state grant and moved to Copenhagen where his tutor Dagmar Borup was one of his most important influences.

Together with his colleagues in Trondheim Ludvig Nielsen (1906-2001) and Per Hjort Albertsen (1919-) Okkenhaug belonged to an important generation of composers in the Trøndelag region. A collaboration between the three composers resulted in the collection Norsk Tonesamling (1964), edited by Okkenhaug.

Paul Okkenhaug’s compositions include works for orchestra, choir, stage, piano and organ, as well as chamber music and songs. These works, with the exception of the orchestral pieces and music for the stage, are published together in a collection entitled Fra koral til barcarole – toner gjennom femti år (From chorale to barcarole – music through fifty years). Central in Okkenhaug’s output of orchestral music is Lyrisk dans, which was awarded first prize in a competition held by NRK and the Norwegian Composers’ Society in 1937. Tonar frå Trøndelag is a rhapsody for orchestra built on folk music material from the Trøndelag region. It was composed in conjunction with a memorial for the Norwegian author Olav Duun in 1957, and was given its first performance by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. Okkenhaug’s list of works contains many arrangements and reworkings of folk music; he collected many folk tunes himself.

Okkenhaug composed in a late romantic national style, with some elements of impessionism. His melodic writing was based on simplicity and inspiration from folk music. The old ecclesiastical modes also strongly influenced both his melodic and his harmonic style.

It was a very special occasion for the composer and for the town of Levanger when NRK (Norwegian broadcasting) made a live broadcast of his Levanger cantata for the town’s hundredth anniversary in 1936. From 1949 Okkenhaug was organist at Levanger church. Many attended in order to hear his organ playing and eminent improvisations. The Paul Okkenhaug Days were held for the first time in 2001. The aim of the event is to present culture in a perspective in keeping with Okkenhaug’s own.

For many, Okkenhaug is best known for his music to a play about the life of St Olav, Spelet om Heilag Olav, which is performed outdoors to an audience of some 20 000 every year at Stiklestad on and around the feast of St Olav.

The fiftieth anniversary of the play was celebrated in 2004 with the publication of a book, among other events. The music to Spelet om Heilag Olav exists in a separate piano reduction of the score, and has been recorded on CD.


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                     "Paul"  Jacob Weidemann 1946


Paul Okkenhaug 1908-1975
"Composer, musician and farmer"

(Final work in the subject “Research and writing skills”,
The Sibelius Academy, October 2009)

By Maija Skille (document PDF)


Paul Okkenhaug-
Paul Okkenhaug-
Paul Okkenhaug-